Bum or philosopher? What makes encounters with people valuable

Oct 21, 2020 Work

This is my first text in the new year. And it has become so completely different from usual. No 10 tips on how to really get started in your job in 2018 and not the 5 biggest application trends. Today I would rather let you participate in a surprising encounter with a person who I will remember for a long time.

I’m on the tram from Refrath to Cologne. It is Saturday, December 23rd, shortly before midnight. In this direction of travel apparently the main travel time for party-goers. However, after four hours of the standard Latin dance party at Christmas, I feel sweaty and slightly drunk, especially in my bed. The ride takes just under 30 minutes, time to cool down and get your heart rate to resting. The closer we get to Cologne, the more crowded it gets. Three men get in at the door just outside my seat. One of them – I estimate him in his mid-50s – very neglected, only a few teeth left in his mouth, long, greasy hair, dirty clothes. The other two, younger than me, are Cologne visitors from Stuttgart – as I find out later. As I get in, I hear the three talking, the “toothless” gesticulating with his hands. The other two, visibly annoyed by their appendage from the train station, sit further back. The older man, whose gaze I notice briefly, takes a seat next to me on the other side of the corridor.

I pull the phone out of my jeans and dumbly scroll through my social media channels. Because I am now surrounded by drunks and exhausted, so I don’t feel like talking on the train. With a pat on my right shoulder, I can look over at him, I hear: “You know, only a few people really live at the moment.”

I notice myself briefly wondering whether I should pay him my attention, then look over to the right, say “Yes, yes, that’s it.” and keep swiping my cell phone. Quiet. Did I manage to get rid of him? A few seconds pass. The two guys from Stuttgart in the back of the train look at me with a grin.

“I have read a lot about Buddhism and meditation, and it is precisely this moment of emptiness in the head that can fill us so much in life.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see him rise from his seat and sway over to me. “I don’t want to lecture anyone and only got it from books, but it’s such a shame that many people are not with themselves.” I look up at him diagonally, his upper body had already felt mine crossed the safety zone in the room. Another pat on my shoulder. “Yes, I have bad teeth, I’m sorry, but what I’m telling you now is very important.” Did I look too obviously at or rather into his mouth? – I feel uncomfortable.

Suddenly a lot of thoughts shot through my tired head: How strong his perception is. How empathic he seems to be. How reflective he is to himself and how he addresses things. And how much truth there is in everything that he literally throws at my head between two stops.

At this moment I notice how my mood is changing, and I feel the desire to get to know him better. I would like to learn more about his point of view and his life and maybe also share my experiences from working as a coach with him.

At the same time, I feel anger, and I’m sorry that I put it in a drawer so quickly and adjusted my behavior accordingly. At this moment I notice how I hang my “Please do not disturb!” Sign in my head and consciously let myself into it. I briefly notice the other passengers looking at me and probably thinking “Poor man, now the bum has found a new victim”, but the next moment everyone else around me disappears in my head as if in thick fog.

Free Vector | Hipster people talking and using computers in co-working

I turn to him in my seat and say “I’m impressed by what you say. How do you know all this?” He tells me that in recent years he has read a lot about Buddhism and studied the behavior of many people. I begin to tell you about the valuable experiences I made with meditation during my training as a coach. He interrupts me again and again and pats me on the shoulder – still too close to me in my opinion – now and then. I am not sure if he is really listening to me, because it seems as if he wants to get his messages across.

So I just listen to him, after all, he has something to say. I give him my full attention and listen actively, nod in agreement and give him the space to say what is important to him with interest. And everything he says sounds so clever, almost wise from his mouth. It moves something in me, makes me think, and I feel how valuable this encounter is for me at this moment. I’m happy to just be able to listen to him.

Suddenly he gets up hastily and walks towards the door. I notice that I am even a little sad to have to end this conversation so abruptly. I say “Thank you for your precious thoughts and all the best!” He looks at me with an expression of amazement and I can see how much my farewell and what I have said unsettled him, but also moved him emotionally. I add “I wish you a peaceful Christmas” afterward, before the doors open, and he gets out. He turns around, looks at me one more time, nods, and then walks down the platform.

The train continues, I still have three stops to Rudolfplatz. I discover the two people from Stuttgart who get up from their seats and come to me. “Well, did the madman text you so miserably?” – “No. And he’s not crazy, I think he’s very smart.” I answer them.

Two weeks have passed since that night. As short as our contact was, in the hectic Christmas hustle and bustle and the middle of the stressful move to my new office, he reminded me of what makes the encounter between people really valuable: openness to others, a real interest in their points of view and their appreciation. That night I questioned my superficial fleeting image of a stranger and was surprised what a new image of a lovable person had developed.

Why am I writing about this experience here on the career blog today? Perhaps it is worthwhile for you to consciously re-expose your picture of the stupid boss, the incompetent colleague, or the annoying customer the next time you meet? You decide through which glasses you meet other people – and also in which light you put them yourself.

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